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30 Sep, 2010 17:12

Up to 60 Russian officials face US ban over jail-death case

The US Congress is to decide whether to ban from entering its territory 60 Russian officials allegedly involved in the death-in-jail case of lawyer Sergey Magnitsky.

The bill, which is to be considered in November, was proposed by Senator Benjamin Cardin and Rep. James McGovern.

“Nearly a year after Sergey's death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia,” Cardin said. “It has become clear that if we expect any measure of justice, we must act in the US. At the least we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country.”

Apart from banning the blacklisted officials from crossing US borders, the authors of the bill demand that the US Finance Ministry should arrest their assets and not allow them to perform any financial operations in the US and even in its banks abroad.

The restrictions are to be lifted only when the Russian government "carries out an objective and unbiased investigation of the Magnitsky case and bring all the criminals to justice".

Moscow reacted to the bill with “perplexity and regret.”

The initiative “not only discords with current level of cooperation between our two countries – it echoes the Cold War times – but it also goes beyond simple norms of propriety,” said an official statement from Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Among those blacklisted are high-ranking officials from such state agencies as the Federal Security Service, the Federal Tax Service and the Prosecutor’s Office, as well as court members. Officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Investigative Committee top the list. Their close relatives will be subjected to the same restrictions.

William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital – the investment company that hired Sergey Magnitsky as a lawyer – has welcomed the move, saying that by launching such an initiative, American senators and congressmen demonstrate that they are ready to support Russia’s anti-corruption campaign at the highest level.

The US has already imposed such restrictions on officials from North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe. However, when in April 2010 Cardin sent the same proposal to the State Department concerning Magnitsky case, it was refused.

The head of the Duma Committee for International Affairs, Konstatin Kosachev, says that the US should not mingle in Russia’s internal affairs.

“Such an initiative may create excessive pressure on the investigators,” Kosachev said. “It is counter-productive. And it can discredit our law system.”

Political analyst Dmitry Babich from the RIA News Agency shares the same view.

“The US government has just got the taste for banning people from entering the country. There was Milosevic and his family, then the sons of Saddam Hussein and lots of other people. I think subconsciously some people in the US government would like to put Russia in the same row. That’s not quite fair,” Babich told RT. 

Human rights organizations, however, rejoiced at the US step.

“If our country doesn’t want to punish these people, other countries should show us an example,” Ludmila Alekseeva, head of Moscow’s OSCE branch, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Alongside with the US, such sanctions against Russian officials are being considered in the UK and Poland. If the officials get blacklisted by the latter, they will not be able to enter all 24 European countries that are party to the Schengen agreement.

In late August 2010, a number of high-ranking Russian tax and police officials allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s case were blacklisted by a range of leading foreign banks.

Meanwhile, the investigation of Magnitsky’s death in Moscow was prolonged until November 24, 2010. So far the police have excluded the jail doctors from the list of the suspects due to an absence of connection between their actions and Magnitsky’s death. Still, it was decided to prolong the investigation to check additional information the investigators managed to obtain.

Furthermore, another seriously ill businessman is reportedly being kept in custody despite the president’s recent regulation. Uvarov is accused of large scale fraud, but according to the new law, he must be freed from custody due to his grave health problems.